Dozens of Oklahoma hospitals have sued former patients over unpaid medical bills

Kelly Gooch -

Dozens of Oklahoma hospitals annually file thousands of debt-collection lawsuits against former patients, according to an investigation by Oklahoma Watch.

The investigation into court records found that 520 state residents, on average, had debt-collection lawsuits filed against them by a hospital each month from Jan. 1, 2016 to July 31, 2019. Overall, Oklahoma hospitals filed 22,250 lawsuits against former patients over unpaid medical bills during that period.

Many times, hospitals garnished wages to get money they were owed, according to Oklahoma Watch. Debt owed ranged from hundreds of dollars to $10,000.

The investigation of nonprofit, for-profit and government-owned organizations also found that larger hospitals or hospital systems tend to sue more frequently than smaller ones.

Hospital officials told Oklahoma Watch that debt-collection lawsuits are filed only when needed, and pointed to the charity or unpaid care they provide for low-income patients.

Mellissa Herron, a spokesperson for Norman Regional Health System, told Oklahoma Watch: "Across all industries, it is a common business practice to pursue legal actions for payment of services rendered."

However, National Patient Advocate Foundation spokesperson Caitlin Donovan expressed opposition to the debt-collection practices, especially by nonprofit hospitals, telling Oklahoma Watch the lawsuits "create a system designed to just discourage people from seeking care."

Read more about the investigation here.


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